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When a person suffers from a physical health crisis, such as illness or injury, many people have at least some idea of ​​what to do – cleaning and dressing the wound or administering CPR, for example. But how many people know how to recognize and manage a mental health crisis?

In August, the University of North Carolina system announcement a major new initiative to train 10,000 students, faculty, staff and campus police across the state in mental health first aid (MHFA). The program, which has trained more than 2.5 million people in the United States, allows participants to recognize the warning signs of mental health or addiction issues and offer initial help and support.

As with physical first aid, people trained in mental health first aid have the opportunity to save a life.

NC State was already planning to deploy its own MHFA training before the system announced its initiative. Now, with the added support of the system, the university will be able to further help the campus community understand how to best help those around them.

“Just like with physical first aid, people trained in mental health first aid have the opportunity to save a life,” said Shannon DuPree, director of wellness at Well-being and leisure.

Break down barriers

Mental health issues are not new to college campuses. But according to Monica Osburn, executive director of NC State’s Advice center, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the typical challenges facing students, faculty and staff.

“The main differences we are seeing right now are in the severity and complexity of the challenges people face,” said Osburn. “People always come to us with typical issues like anxiety or adjustment issues, but a lot of them are also complicated by other factors like substance use or domestic violence. “

The stigma that students perceive is a barrier to getting them the care they need.

Zack Jenio, a park scholar and a major in biological sciences who is currently working on a graduate degree in Comparative Biomedical Sciences, has seen many of his comrades struggle with the effects of isolation, disease, uncertainty and other issues brought on by the pandemic. But they often see a stigma around asking for help.

“The stigma that students perceive is a barrier to getting them the care they need,” Jenio said.

Knowing that many people with mental health issues do not seek professional help, the Wellness Advisory Committee decided to offer MSFA training on campus to enable community members to s ” help each other in a more informal way.

The training helps participants learn the common signs and symptoms of mental illness and substance use, how to interact with someone in crisis, and how to connect that person with resources that can help them.

“The goal of the training is that people who are not licensed professionals can learn more about mental health and become familiar with the resources available to refer people in crisis,” said DuPree.

A wall in the free speech tunnel painted with sentences including "Ask a question, save a life"; "You count";  and "I love you."
Messages painted in the Free Speech Tunnel at the Counseling Center’s Stop the Stigma event.
A wall in the free speech tunnel painted with phrases including "Don't stay silent" and "I live"
Messages painted in the Free Speech Tunnel at the Counseling Center’s Stop the Stigma event.

“Everyone has a role”

The eight-hour MHFA training is available free of charge to anyone in the state of North Carolina, and registration is now open for future sessions. You do not need to have any previous experience or training to register.

“A great benefit of this training is that it can help people see that everyone has a role to play in supporting mental health,” said Osburn.

MHFA complements many other North Carolina state efforts to build community around health and wellness, including programs like the Mental health ambassadors, NC State is worried and Student well-being coaching.

For the past three years, Jenio has been a Wellness Coach through Wellness and Recreation’s Thrive program, helping students take a holistic view of their well-being and adopt healthier habits. He has seen the benefits that this program offers to students and is looking forward to taking the MHFA training.

“I’m taking this training so that I can be a leader and advocate within the community when it comes to mental health and how important it is to everyone,” Jenio said. “I am excited to learn how to teach information and facilitate training so that I can work with student groups, organizations, and North Carolina State departments to remove some of the barriers associated with learning. stigma and create a network of people who can support those around them.

Man in a red NC State shirt talks with another student sitting on a stationary bike
Wellness Coach Sam Katowitz works with a client as part of the Carmichael Gym Wellness Coaching Program.

Look ahead

Sixteen faculty and staff completed the first training session at NC State in September, designed to prepare them to become trainers for future participants. In addition to the sessions open for registration, student organizations and departments may request specific training for groups of their students or employees.

Those who participated in the first MHFA training are already thinking about how they can apply it in their interactions with the North Carolina state community and others.

“I wanted to take the training so that I could raise awareness of the signs we need to look for and let people know that it’s okay to step up and make mental health a normal topic of conversation,” said Nikki Kurdys, Director county operations assistant and human resources manager for North Carolina State Cooperative Extension.

Extension workers regularly work with the public throughout the state. Kurdys hopes that as these employees participate in the training, its impact will extend beyond campus to the ridings with which they interact.

“Mental health is an issue that farmers don’t talk about much but often struggle with,” Kurdys said. “I hope that equipping our employees to recognize the signs of struggles will allow them to help the public even more than they already are.”

“This training really opened my eyes to how even the language you use can help create a safe environment,” said Michele Kurtz, Associate Director of NC State’s Leadership and student engagement. She hopes to implement what she has learned by supporting department operations and working with students.

This training can help people see that everyone has a role to play in supporting mental health.

“It has helped me feel more confident about what to do when meeting students or staff with a mental health issue and even helped me better understand how to identify the signs of. emerging challenges, ”she said.

Dan O’Brien, Assistant Director of Employee Relations at University human resources, said the training has helped him connect with others who care about mental health issues. “I really appreciate the passion I saw in my colleagues in the state of North Carolina during training to be that difference and to advocate for reducing the stigma surrounding mental health issues,” said he declared.

He hopes to see this community grow as the training is extended to more people.

“The MHFA training left me feeling like I was able to provide help, support and hope to those in need,” he said. “This is definitely an opportunity to make a difference and have a positive impact on our Wolfpack community and beyond.”

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